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Blessed by adversity: Utah man refuses to wallow in past

Life. It throws change-ups. And nobody is exempt. No one wins them all. Or were you not watching what happened to Tiger Woods on Sunday?

Gary Ceran has seen his share of ups and downs. He's lost three children to cancer. He's lost twins to premature birth. He's lost businesses to the economy. And that was before his wife Cheryl and children Ian and Julianna were killed when a drunken driver plowed into the family car on Christmas Eve in 2006.

Only Gary and son Caleb and daughter Clarissa survived — all that remains of the family that could have been, should have been, 11.

I ran into Gary Ceran this past week. Almost literally. I was walking around a downtown corner, and there he was in the middle of the sidewalk, offering me a free Italian ice sample.

I looked at the nearby street vendor cart, staffed by three teenagers.

"Skoopzz New York Italian Ice" said the sign.

"Do you have coconut?" I asked.

"Of course," came the reply.

As I was walking away I thought the thought that is never far from a newspaper columnist's mind: this could be a column.

By the time I turned back I had it sketched out in my mind: This guy was an out-of-work stockbroker putting his kids to work on the streets.

I said to the vendor, "I'll bet there's a story here."

I had no idea.

"I'm Gary Ceran," he said. "I think you've written about me before."

Indeed I had, along with the rest of the Salt Lake media. Gary's story took on dramatic overtones in the winter of 2006-07, and not only because of his family's tragedy on Christmas Eve. Afterward, Gary unconditionally forgave the 24-year-old man who reduced his family by half.

It was the first of a series of highly publicized acts of forgiveness that winter, arising out of tragedies from the Trolley Square shootings to the Amish schoolhouse massacre.

Gary explained that he took six months off after the car wreck as his family healed.

Then, in the spring of 2008, he remarried, instantly gaining four more children, and after that he put all the kids to work, along with himself, staffing Skoopzz.

The Italian ice business dates back to the summer of 2003 when Gary, who was working in financial management for the LDS Church, bought the cart and put his kids to work outside Salt Lake's two downtown malls.

Skoopzz was so successful it spawned an ice cream store and a pizza place in Provo.

But success hath its own pitfalls. First the downtown malls were torn down, then Gary became a victim of his own rapid expansion when the economy sagged, and then along came that drunken driver.

Fast forward to the summer of 2009 and here's Gary, in yellow T-shirt and sneakers, again hocking Italian ice with his family.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Mr. Forgiveness clearly enjoys the view from street level.

"I get to make a lot of friends," he says, "and the kids get to learn how to be entrepreneurs."

From here the possibilities are, as always for one who refuses to wallow in the past, many. Gary is learning foreign currency trading, he's writing a book (working title: "Allowing Your Life To Be Blessed By Adversity"), he's considering motivational speaking, and come wintertime he might move Skoopzz into the food court as the downtown malls re-emerge.

He definitely plans to continue to keep in touch with Carlos Prieto, the man who plowed into his family on Christmas Eve. Gary visited Carlos in prison last Christmas. "It was a beautiful experience," he said. "He's got eight years left in jail, and then he'll get deported, and yet we were able to smile and talk. He's doing the same thing we all are, trying to move on in life."

Before he moved on to offer an Italian ice sample to a construction worker, Gary remembered something his father used to quote.

"He'd always say life is like a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up, that's up to you."

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to